When it comes to finding ways to waste taxpayer money, the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) appears to own franchise rights.
It’s not enough that Superintendent of Education John White has loaded down the department with top-heavy, six-figure administrative positions filled largely by out-of-state modern-day carpetbaggers—some of whom had to be compelled by state law enforcement authorities to purchase Louisiana license plates for their vehicles.
But a peek at the three contracts totaling nearly $1.6 million awarded to Teach for America (TFA) reveals built-in hidden costs about which White most probably would just as soon the paying public did not know.
A few weeks ago we did a story about TFA’s request for a state allocation of $5 million this year. In that story we revealed that local school districts are required to pay TFA a negotiated fee that ranges from $2,000 to $5,000—and then pay the TFA teachers’ salaries over and above those fees. Louisiana school districts, in addition to the salaries, pay a fee of $3,000 per teacher recruited—unless they are recruited by the Recovery School District (RSD).
Because the RSD is overseen by White and a compliant Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), it is able to be more generous with its fees to TFA—a lot more generous.
Contract No. 718050, a $382,500 TFA contract that began on June 1, 2012 and continues through June 30, 2014, calls for TFA to recruit 40 new first-year teachers for RSD at a fee of $4,500 per teacher, or 50 percent higher than the rate paid by other Louisiana school districts.
But wait. The contract requires the $4,500 per teacher payment not only for the first year, but for the second year as well, or $9,000 per teacher—three times that paid by other school districts.
Moreover, the contract calls for a $4,500 per teacher fee for five second-year teachers, bringing the total fee payment to $382,500
That represents a healthy bump from the fees paid under contract no. 718049, which runs from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2014 for a contract amount of $234,500. That contract calls for the recruitment fee payment of $3,000 each for 25 first-year teachers and $3,000 each for 26 second-year teachers. Additionally, it calls for a fee of $3,250 each for the second year of those 25 teachers.
And then there is contract no. 717968 in the amount of $968,468 that calls for the recruitment of 520 TFA teachers to work in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, St. James. St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, Orleans, Plaquemines, East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Concordia, St. Helena and RSD.
Besides the potential violation of federal equal employment opportunity laws by giving stated preference to TFA teachers over more qualified applicants holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Plus-30s and Ph.Ds., the contract, which runs from Sept. 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013, contains a rather unusual clause which says:
• “If the contract is 8(g) funded, all provisions of this ownership clause apply except that upon termination or at the completion of 8(g) funding for a project/program, (BESE) may approve a contractor’s (TFA) request to retain equipment purchased with 8(g) funds based on the contractor’s assurance that the equipment will be used for educational enhancement.”
In 1953, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act was passed to regulate offshore leasing and to determine state/federal participation. The act was amended in the late 1970s to give states greater control over offshore activities.
The amendment, numbered 8(g), is what gives coastal states a “fair and equitable” share of the money from offshore development. The 1986 settlement gives Louisiana 27 percent of the money made from the 8(g) area of the continental shelf.
Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment to establish a trust fund for education from the 8(g) funds. The Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund requires that the money be spent for educational purposes.
BESE is constitutionally mandated to allocate funds for any of the following purposes:
• To provide compensation to city or parish school board professional instructional employees;
• To ensure an adequate supply of superior textbooks, library books, equipment and other instructional materials;
• To fund exemplary programs in elementary or secondary schools designed to improve elementary or secondary student academic achievement or vocational-technical skills;
• To fund carefully defined research efforts, including pilot programs, designed to improve elementary or secondary student academic achievement;
• To fund school remediation programs and preschool programs;
• To fund the teaching of foreign languages in elementary and secondary schools;
• To fund an adequate supply of teachers by providing scholarships or stipends to prospective teachers in academic or vocational-technical areas where there is a critical teacher shortage.
Nowhere in those stipulations does it say that BESE or DOE may arbitrarily give contractors educational equipment purchased with 8(g) (read: public) funds. But then, the wording is sufficiently ambiguous. Maybe they can.
Of course, there is that wording that the contractor (TFA) may retain equipment purchased with 8(g) funds in the event its contract with the state is terminated only so long as TFA provides assurances “that the equipment will be used for educational enhancement.” (Emphasis ours.)
But if the TFA contract is cancelled, TFA would no longer be teaching in Louisiana.
So where would equipment purchased with Louisiana funds be used “for educational purposes?”
With this administration and this Superintendent of Education, who knows?